Queensland researchers develop experimental vaccine against cytomegalovirus

Queensland researchers have developed an experimental vaccine against a “nasty” virus that can cause severe disabilities and sometimes death in unborn babies.

The vaccine, which the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute is heralding as a breakthrough, is designed to protect against cytomegalovirus (CMV), which can result in babies developing hearing loss, cerebral palsy, developmental delay and other severe disabilities while in the womb.

Scientist Rajiv Khanna has been working on the vaccine for 15 years.

He hopes to conduct human trials by 2024 and is in discussions with potential industry partners to progress the vaccine.

Professor Khanna said the vaccine worked by mounting a two-pronged immune-system attack against the virus, deploying both antibodies and killer T cells.

“A major reason for vaccines not working for CMV is that most of the previous vaccine formulations have tried to control the virus through … antibodies alone,” he said.

Professor Rajiv Khanna and Dr Vijayendra Dasari
Rajiv Khanna (left) says the vaccine has produced a strong immune response during mouse trials.(Supplied: QIMR Berghofer)

“We’ve learned that antibodies alone are not sufficient. These viruses very cleverly hide inside the cell. And to kill that virus, which is inside the cell, you need killer T cells.

Professor Khanna said the vaccine had produced a strong and sustained immune response in mouse trials.

“The longevity of the immune response is very critical,” he said.

Virus most dangerous for unborn babies

Adolescents would be the initial target population if the vaccine was successful, but it could also benefit people across their life span.

“If you don’t have a pre-existing immunity to this virus and you get exposed during pregnancy … you have a one in three chance of transmitting that virus to the baby through the placenta,” Professor Khanna said.

Leave a Comment